City wants public’s input on arts, culture
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 2, 2012 1:54AM
Updated: March 3, 2012 11:37AM
The last time Chicago developed a new cultural plan, it set the stage for the renovation of Navy Pier and the creation of a thriving North Loop theater district.
It laid the groundwork for Pilsen’s National Museum of Mexican Art and tax incentives that lured Hollywood moviemakers here.
For the first time in 26 years, Chicago is drafting a new cultural plan that’s expected to flesh out Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s dream of an Uptown Music district and the “cultural hubs” touted in his transition plan.
But, first things first.
City Hall is soliciting ideas from the public on ways to enhance Chicago’s reputation as a “global destination for the best in arts and culture.”
The outreach will begin with four town hall meetings this month — from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at Columbia College, Feb. 16 at Senn High School and Feb. 21 at the National Museum of Mexican Art and from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 18 at the DuSable Museum.
More neighborhood meetings and focus groups are planned this spring, for a total of “30 community conversations.” Chicagoans can also submit their ideas at an interactive website: www.chicagoculturalplan2012.com.
Marj Halperin, vice-chair of the mayor’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Council, said she expects the “cultural hubs” talked about in the mayor’s transition report to be a starting point for the unprecedented public conversation.
“Look at the places where arts and culture are working to jump-start community development and think of how the city can accelerate the process,” said Halperin, past president and CEO of the League of Chicago Theaters.
“Look at Bucktown or Pilsen, where artists came together to rejuvenate a community. Look at Uptown, where there is potential for that with the theaters, bars and restaurants. What if the city could facilitate more parking, improve CTA stations, bring in hotels or help renovate the Uptown Theater as a better anchor for the community. When the city uses its resources to support what’s happening, you can get a really powerful cultural hub.”
Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone said “early conversations with arts leaders” have focused on the “common themes” of arts education, tourism, community development and support for individual artists.
What Boone is looking forward to hearing is the “new or bold ideas” from those City Hall does not normally engage.
“Is there a way to extend the work of Blues Fest into the neighborhoods? How can we bring resources to strengthen collaboration and guide organizations to do more outreach to neighborhoods that don’t have resources to build their own facilities?” Boone said.
“This is not the department guiding or dictating what the plan should be, but listening and responding to what peoples’ ideas are.”
With 24,000 “arts enterprises,” Chicago already has what City Hall calls the nation’s third-largest creative economy. It includes 650 non-profit arts organizations that together employ 150,000 people and generate $2 billion in annual revenues.
Emanuel is a former ballet dancer who has referred to the arts as the “heartbeat” of Chicago. Boone could not agree more.
“It’s hard to think about Chicago now without images of Millennium Park, the Bean, the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony and neighborhood arts organizations. It’s hard for me to imagine Chicago without the arts. Who would want to be here?” she said.
Halperin added, “We wouldn’t be the great city we are without making the best use of our arts and cultural assets and we can’t do that without a very large public conversation. Great things came out of the 1986 plan. It’s way past time to have that kind of discussion again.”